Little Ava Barley is not the first child to have died while in the care of an unregistered facility. In February 2008, 3-year-old Thando Mkhize drowned at an unregistered crèche in Pietermaritzburg.
Provincial government officials have admitted that in the Western Cape alone, there are about 2 000 unregistered creches in operation.
There are a number of steps the government intends to take to try to remedy this problem, including plans to publish a list of registered facilities, as well as those that have applied for registration and are waiting for the process to be completed. Responsible crèche owners will be urged to post their registration certificate on their website and/or physically on their wall.
The procedure for registering a childcare facility (formally known as a 'partial care facility') is comprehensively covered in the Children's Amendment Act 2007 (published in the Government Gazette, 18 March 2008).
Basically, someone wishing to run a crèche or childcare facility for six or more children needs to register with the Department of Social Development. A representative from the Department of Health will then inspect the premises and, if all is in order, will issue a clearance certificate.
The next step will be for the owner to lodge an application to legally run the facility with the Department of Social Development. This application will include information such as the number of children to be accommodated, the qualifications of the applicant, the business hours of the facility and its disciplinary policy.
This must be accompanied by approved building plans (if relevant) and the health clearance certificate. (Once the country’s National Child Protection Register and National Register for Sex Offenders are complete and operational – probably some time in 2014 – a clearance certificate stating that neither the applicant nor any of the employees appear on these will also be required.)
The Department of Social Services will then issue a registration certificate for the facility. The certificate will reflect important information such as the number of children for which the premises is suitable and the hours of operation. Registered crèches are routinely inspected by the district Environmental Health Practitioner.
It is up to parents to ensure that their children are entrusted into the care of a legally registered facility. When you apply to enrol your children at a crèche, ask to see a copy of its Department of Social Services registration certificate, and don't be shy to confirm with the owner that the details reflected on it are up-to-date and accurate.
Although, as Western Cape social development minister Patricia de Lille said, accidents can happen anywhere and at any time, regardless of whether a facility is registered or not, 'A parent will have greater peace of mind if a facility is registered, because then at least you know it complies with certain norms and standards.'
Have you checked your creche's credentials? Do you feel your child is safe at crèche?